What if there’s actually a lot more freedom than I thought there was?
This is a question I keep encountering. A hopeful, scary, possibility full question.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes there is Black and White, Right and Wrong, Wise and Unwise, but a lot of times there’s just Choice.
This was a new thought for me when, a few years back, a friend gave a helpful analogy. I was at the brink of a heartbreaking decision, a crossroads that affected my whole life and it felt like the stakes were larger than I could handle. “This may sound like a trite comparison, but go with me for a second,” was the disclaimer she gave up front. “I love buying shoes. Sometimes, at the shoe store, I’ll be torn between two pairs of boots. One is much more practical, durable, and the other one is unique and a bit quirky. I feel more drawn to the second pair, even though they aren’t going to keep me as warm in the winter, those are the ones I want. And that is okay. That’s the choice I go with.”
In the realm of consumer purchases, the process of choice is recognized and acceptable, mundane even. It’s much harder for me to apply this mentality to bigger life choices. I used to get paralyzed by the need to “do it right” (whatever that means) and riddled with anxiety over haunting “shoulds” (I should take this opportunity, I should say yes to that person, I should stay in this even though it’s draining…) If I found myself at any crossroads of choice or the possibility of change, I would demand clarity, not trusting my own intuition. And clarity needing to be an obvious neon flashing light pointing to where I should go. And if I didn’t have that, I’d feel like there was something wrong with me.
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” —Isaiah 30:21
I think I used to read this verse and it confirmed my neon-flashing-sign way of needing to hear from God. And there have been times in my life where choices do seem really evident. But sometimes he doesn’t. As I read this verse now, I see this partnership, an active listening and simultaneously, this active movement forward, this collaboration in the adventure. And I don’t want to limit that voice behind me, that way that he chooses to speak, to the way he’s done it in the past or my preconceived ideas about him.
It seems that sometimes, under the banner of “Doing God’s Will” we over spiritualize things to our detriment. When we put so much pressure on needing to make the right choice, we take on this martyr mentality, suffering through the woes of needing to do it perfectly, rather than trusting God’s sovereignty. Now, I deeply believe that God is intimately involved and cares about the mundane details of our lives, but somewhere along the line, that has shifted into this anxiety riddled spiritual guessing game. (Oh Lord, what is your will for the breakfast cereal I should eat today?)
My fear of making a wrong choice belies a suspicion that God can’t actually handle our failures, that he’ll have to scramble into “Plan B mode” if we don’t choose the right thing.
What would it look like if we actually believed that He was sovereign over our choices, our regrets, our story— what it has been up to this point and what it will be moving forward?
Then we couldn’t really lose.
Then we could take ourselves less seriously.
Then we’d actually be free to risk, because failure wouldn’t have to be our undoing.
As I’m trying to step into that reality, I’m realizing that I am far more stingy with myself and my choices than God is. I was reading Ecclesiastes 3 a while back, all the different things that are right in their own time. In the midst of another big life transition, I felt frustrated at the ambiguity. “There is a time to plant, and a time to uproot, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away…” well how the hell are you supposed to know what time it is?? But as I kept reading, I read this:
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11-13)
I was reminded of the generosity that we are drenched in. That it is an act of worship to receive God’s good and be happy. If I am rooted in Him, studying his Word with a soft heart, anchored in life-giving friendships with people who love me enough to point out my blind spots, then I am free to “go confidently in the direction of (my) dreams” as Thoreau declares.
If “it is for freedom that we have been set free” (Galatians 5:1) I don’t want be be “burdened by a yoke of slavery”—slavery to fear, slavery to expectations or preconceived narratives that we try to fit into, slavery to the comfort of certainty. I want to enter into the freedom that is intimate friendship and collaboration with the Creator of the universe.